Keyword Academy Google Adsense Case Study 2012
This is a public test of the methods and tools provided by The Keyword Academy, a [former] subscription-based service designed to teach users to build a passive income of at least $1000 per month online. I have not produced any content along their suggested guidelines since joining, so I can’t yet testify for or against their advice.
What I can do is share my experience of going through their process with you. A recent addition to the instructional materials has convinced me that the methods TKA advocates are very workable, and that I have the potential to generate a lot of keyword-targeted content quickly. Additionally, TKA has some very sensible, practical (at least as far as I can tell) methods for SEO backlinking strategies that don’t involve horrible link-spamming on garbage blogs with companies like SEO Blueprint. I like the idea of doing my link building right along with content creation, as opposed to the massive backlink bombs I’ve seen advocated so many times. I have seen with my other sites that manual, content-based link building can be easier, cheaper, and more effective than trying to shortcut the process with automated tools.
I have started a new niche site that I will be using as a public test of The Keyword Academy’s process and tools. I am following their general guidelines, with a few minor tweaks of my own. The tweaks aren’t because I don’t believe that their methods will work–I do have faith in their system from what I have seen so far. The problem is that they offer several different “plans of attack,” so to speak. The different plans overlap, but they also have a tendency to contradict one another at times. I like the concept of dedicated 7-hour work sessions that they have created recently, but it didn’t mesh well with their advocated backlinking methodology. My tweak is just a reconciliation of the two concepts, and I think it will really boost my productivity.
I will be regularly updating my progress and results with this niche site. I plan on giving a detailed status update at the beginning of the month. Of course, if anything really interesting happens with the site’s development between updates, I’ll be sure to share it as it happens. I’m genuinely excited about the prospects for this site, as my keyword research skills have improved drastically, thanks in no small part to the tools and instructional material on TKA.
#1: The Site Is Live
Let me start off by saying that my keyword selection process was much more refined this time around than it had been for my last two attempts at creating niche websites, thanks to the instructional material and tools offered by The Keyword Academy. I began my search by picking a few broad, one-word terms and feeding them into the Google Keyword Tool. After Google returned a list of suggestions (several hundred of them), I then took that list and fed it back through the tool, one hundred phrases at a time. The final result was a list of about 5,400 keyword phrases.
I’ll point out that for this keyword list to be ready the next step of the process, I did have to log into my AdWords account. The new version of the Google Keyword Tool will only display Average CPC statistics when you are logged in, and they are needed for the next step. I also added a few filters to narrow my data down to the keyword phrases most likely to be worth examining further. I limited the search to only those phrases which receive at least 700 local monthly searches and 1,000 global searches, so that I would be sure that the potential traffic to the site would be worth the effort. I also limited the search to those terms with fewer than 25,000 global searches. I felt that the likelihood of finding terms with that many searchers that are still competitive enough to rank for is just too low to bother.
Once I had my keywords saved as CSV files, along with their global monthly search volumes and Average CPC, I uploaded them into TKA’s proprietary program, Niche Refinery. Niche Refinery is a relatively simple tool, but one that does what would take a human literally months or years to do–it checks the PageRank of the top four SERP results for each of the keyword phrases. While PR isn’t everything, finding keyword phrases that return top results with lots of very low PRs is a good indicator that the phrase should be relatively easy to rank for. Niche Refinery allows you to automatically grab the PRs for thousands of search terms, then filter the list to only those that have lots of low-ranked pages near the top of the SERPs.
Of my 5,400 keywords from Google, about 800 qualified as “green” according to TKA’s criteria. That means that the keyword meets minimum AdSense potential requirements, volume requirements, and competition requirements. I went through the list looking for groups of related terms that could be used to create multiple keyword-targeted pages on a site with a focused, coherent theme. Most of the keywords were so specific that they couldn’t be logically grouped together, and many were clearly not going to generate many clicks on advertisements. There were, however, several phrases that included the word asbestos that looked like they were competitive, topically related, and had very high CPCs.
I went back to the Google Keyword Tool and fed in the word asbestos, along with several related terms. I got back about 800 results, which I then fed through the Niche Refinery. I was very impressed at what I saw. I was looking at a list of keywords that were very closely related, yet varied enough to make it easy to come up with a reasonably long page of content for each. Each keyword also had plenty of opportunity for both derivative and semantic long-tail traffic–the phrases were mostly three or four words long, and would naturally be used by searchers with a number of modifiers or synonyms added.
I was convinced that this set of keywords was going to be profitable, so I registered the domain name Asbestos-Watch.com. I installed WordPress, wrote my first four keyword-targeted articles, and put the site online. I then started the process of creating my backlinking articles, which I will discuss in more detail next week, along with TKA’s content-distribution system called PostRunner.
I was expecting that it would take at least a few days for the site to be indexed by Google, but after only two days, I had already gotten two organic visitors. The site was already ranking on the first page of a few very long-tail search terms, without a single backlink. While the tiny bit of traffic is pretty meaningless at this point, the implication seems to be that ranking for my primary keyword phrases is definitely doable. Google definitely sees my articles as relevant, and that really seems like the key to ranking ever since the Panda update came along.
All told, I am very excited and optimistic about this niche site. I’m going to be putting a lot of effort into making sure that it succeeds, and I am confident that it will. Hopefully, next Friday will include more good news.
#2: A Trickle of Income Already
Early this week, my new niche site got its very first AdSense ad click. While $0.42 is nothing to get too excited over, it came from only the tenth person to reach the site through an organic search in Google. I will definitely need to get a a much larger sample of visitors before I can get an accurate idea of what the average click-through rate (CTR) is going to be for the site, but at least I know that my ads are placed where people are looking at them. I’d love to get a CTR of 5% or higher on this site once the traffic starts coming in, and I think the AdSense ads so far have been relevant enough to the searchers that I will be able to achieve that goal.
The site is already drawing organic search traffic every day, even without any of its primary keywords showing up on the first or second page of Google’s search results. People are definitely searching for this kind of info on a regular basis, and it will be awesome when I succeed at tapping into that traffic stream. I’m going to be very focused on getting those first-page Google rankings! That, of course, means lots and lots of link building.
When I tried to create my first niche site, I took Pat Flynn’s advice and signed up for Blog Blueprint. I love Pat, but as most of you who follow the blog know, Blog Blueprint was a bad idea. It’s a shady company that just throws worthless links up on their spam farms for a hefty $67 a month. For that same $67, you can sing up for The Keyword Academy (free for the first 30 days, and $33 a month for their Pro level subscription after that), and have access to their awesome PostRunner network for a full three months. Feel free to use that extra dollar for whatever you like.
What is PostRunner?
PostRunner is a network of about 1,400 websites owned and operated by TKA subscribers. Members can submit up to 1000 backlinking articles through PostRunner for each month of membership in TKA. Articles have to be 300 words or more, and can contain no more than two links. PostRunner is similar to Blog Blueprint in its ease of use, ability to trickle out backlinks over time with its built-in scheduling option, and ability to create links from a wide variety of domains. That is where the similarity ends, though.
First and foremost, most submissions to PostRunner sites are actually reviewed by a human before they are published. Because each site is owned and operated by a real member of TKA, most incoherent junk articles get rejected by the site owners. What this means is that the majority of the sites on which your links will appear actually have quality content on them instead of the spam farms that most of the paid services like Blog Blueprint and Unique Article Wizard use.
The site owners usually like to get quality content that can bring them traffic for ad revenue, so they tend to only let the good stuff through. Some even go so far as to build links to your backlinking articles for you! Because so many of the owners take good care of their sites, you will get a lot more link juice and ranking authority from a PostRunner site than you would get from automatic link-building services.
Secondly, you actually get to pick which sites you post to. You get to see the real addresses of the sites before you submit your article, so you can check it out before deciding. And once your post is published, you get the exact URL of the article so you can go and check it out. Contrast that with how Blog Blueprint operates–they won’t tell you where your links are being created, because they don’t want you to see that they are putting them on a small selection of total garbage sites.
My Current Strategy
When I built my first niche site, I created a crappy, keyword-stuffed page. I then tried massive link-building tactics using horrible, spun content and spam farms that I had heard would work to get me ranked. I spent quite a bit of time and more money than I should have, and I never got any decent rankings to show for it.
When I built my second site, I sat down and created what I thought would be really interesting and informative content. Afterward, I threw a handful of higher-quality, free backlinks at it, then promptly forgot about it for several months. It moved up to #2 in Google for its primary keyword phrase without any other work whatsoever, and it’s still there.
Obviously, the second method is cheaper, easier, and more productive than the first, and it’s the one I’ll be using as I go forward with the new site. The only difference is that I plan on continuing to work on this site, rather than letting it fall dormant. I have already posted a number of linking articles in PostRunner, and I plan on doing quite a few more over the next two months.
#3: A Blast From the Not-So-Distant Past
I was hoping that my niche site updates would be all about how my newest niche site’s meteoric rise through the SERPs, right up to #1 in Google. Of course, it has been less than two months since the launch of the site, so hitting #1 for even one of its primary keywords would have been incredibly lucky, to say the least.
So, no, this update isn’t to celebrate my newest niche site’s success. Sure, it’s getting a trickle of natural, organic search engine traffic, and all four of it’s primary keyword phrases are on the first two pages of Google. One is even on the first page, bouncing around between #6 and #8. The simple fact, though, is that I’ve got a while to go before the site will start getting enough traffic to produce passive income for me.
What has pleasantly surprised me, though, is that my second niche site, www.goodpetsforkids.com, hit #1 for its primary keyword phrase in Google while I was away on vacation. It is also bouncing between #1 and #2 for the semantic equivalent phrase good pets for children. I had taken AdSense off the site some time ago, as it was not getting any clicks and was dragging my CTR (Click-Thru Rate) down, which could lead to lower CPC (Cost per Click) rates on my newer site.Since the site has moved up drastically from when I had taken AdSense down, it was now getting about 700 visitors a month, with an average of about two pageviews per visit. I knew that the placement of the ads had been the primary reason for the low CTR before, so I decided to redesign the site and get my AdSense ads where they would have a better chance of getting clicked. I moved the whole site from its original, static HTML structure over into WordPress, set up 301 redirects to account for the variations in naming conventions of the old pages, and put the ads back up.
I’d like to say that the earnings blew me away, but they haven’t. They have been significantly higher than I anticipated, though. The CTR is very low, but the average CPC I’ve gotten is a lot higher than I thought it would be. I can’t give exact numbers due to Google’s terms of service, but I will say that it’s in the ballpark of half a dollar per click. As far as internet marketing goes, that’s still very low, but higher than I had expected from looking at the Google Keyword Tool’s CPC estimates.
Given current traffic, CTR, and CPC, it looks like I should average about $15 a month from the site if I do nothing to it. While that’s not much money, it is enough to completely pay for my web hosting and several domain name renewals each year. It is also a good indication that there is more hope for the site than I thought when I basically abandoned it several months ago. Specifically, I now know that I have found a niche that I can rank well for without spending a tremendous amount of time creating backlinks. The in-depth, high-quality content that I produced and my exact-match domain name were all it took to get the site to #1, and I now have authority within my niche in Google’s eyes.
So, what do I do now? I’ve already hit the top of Google for my primary keyword so the traffic to the site has plateaued. If I want the site to produce more than its current trickle of income, I need to do one of two things–find more traffic sources, or increase the return from each visitor that I get. Of course, I would like to do both, and benefit from the synergy between them.
My first step is going to be adding more content to the site. I’ve been amazed at how many visitors actually read every single page of content on the site before leaving. While that’s awesome, it also means that I’m missing out on a lot of page-views that I could have gotten by providing more articles for those visitors to read. In particular, I only discuss five different kinds of kids’ pets right now. I will be adding pages for other pets, although I don’t anticipate a lot of direct search engine traffic from them. I simply don’t get a lot of traffic dealing with the individual animal types right now Almost all of the traffic currently comes from people looking for more general information.
In addition to adding more pet types to the site, I am going to be writing some support articles. The support articles will cover several important aspects of pet ownership, and they are an excellent opportunity for me to not only add valuable content to the site, but to target buyer-oriented keywords as well. In particular, suggestions for what new pet owners will need to purchase are a natural addition to the site.
The next step is to further monetize the site to make better use of the traffic that I am getting. I had tried a Petco affiliate banner, but even above the fold the CTR on the banner was almost zero. There just doesn’t seem to be any incentive for the visitor to click through. This time around, I will try something a little different. I will be putting affiliate sales links to specific products inside the site content.
The Petco affiliate program (available through the Commission Junction marketplace) only allows affiliates to place general banners and buttons on their sites. They do not allow product-specific links, which is just bad marketing. There is another pet product supplier in CJ, Pet Mountain, but they have the same policy as Petco. Thankfully, Amazon.com has pet supplies in their marketplace, so I will be using their affiliate program to add the product links.
I’m very excited to be moving forward with the old site, and I can’t wait for my newer site to start taking off, too.
#4: Playing With Numbers for Profit
When you start getting emails from readers complaining about how long you’ve gone since posting, you’re doing something wrong on your blog. Special thanks goes out to Galyna for shaming me into posting today’s update.
Honestly, there was very little happening with my niches sites until about two weeks ago, so I just never got around to posting any updates. The newest site hasn’t climbed much in the SERPs over the last two months, so there is nothing to report on that front. The kids’ pets site has been holding steady at it’s #1 spot in Google, but the CTR for AdSense was horrible for the first month of serving up ads, and the average CPC for the site’s targeted keywords isn’t really worth writing home about.
The numbers I saw from the sites in late August and early September showed that I was getting steady traffic, but virtually no money. It prompted me to make some improvements that turned out to be somewhat effective, if not exactly thrilling.
Where I Improved (and Will Continue to Improve) My Sites
The basic formula for determining average monthly revenue for a site (using AdSense as the source of revenue) is as follows:
Visitors X Pageviews Per Visitor X Avg. Click-Thru Rate X Avg. Cost Per Click
Each one of those numbers can be manipulated to some extent, and the best way to increase AdSense revenue on a site is by maximizing as many of them as possible. While my kids’ pets niche site doesn’t look like it will ever be a huge earner, it has proven that it can already cover the cost of my web hosting and a few domain renewals each year. Even getting the site to the point that it could earn a steady $25-$50 a month would be a real coup for me. So here is what I did (or plan to do) for each factor in my revenue equation.
There are a lot of different ways to get more visitors to the site each month, but I am focusing on Search Engine Optimization for my sites. That means that my goal has to be reaching #1 in Google for as many keywords as possible to drive traffic. The site’s main keyword (and one direct semantic equivalent) drives about 65% of the site’s traffic, which is around 1,000 visitors a month right now.
As far as visitors driven by the main keyword for the site, I couldn’t ask for more. Most sources I’ve seen indicate that about 40-45% of Google’s users click through the first result on page one of the SERPs. Based on the Google Keyword Tool’s search volume estimates, my site is pulling in that traffic an impressive 68% of the time. Not too shabby! The problem, though, is that I am already at #1, so that keyword has reached its maximum potential already.
My only options now are to target more keywords, and to increase my rankings for the keywords I’m using already. I have five pages that are hovering around #10 for their primary keywords. I could focus my efforts on those keywords, but the return for the effort probably wouldn’t be worth it; reaching #1 in Google for all five of the keywords would only add about 100 visitors a month. So, I really do need to focus on some new keywords.
One keyword that should be achievable for me is a short-tail root for my main keyword. Surprisingly, the longer-tail keyword actually gets more searches each month. My site is already ranked #11 in Google for the short-tail, so a few high-quality backlinks with the short-tail keyword used as anchor text may be all that I need to get to the top.
My latest article is much more ambitious in its targeted keyword. It was indexed and ranked in the top 50 in Google within hours, and it is up to #37 as of today. It has a much higher search volume than any other keyword I’ve targeted, but I believe that the competition is beatable. If I do get to #1 for this keyword, it could drive an additional 2,000-3000 visitors to the site monthly.
Pageviews Per Visitor
This one is all about quality. My visitor bounce rate is around 63%, which I feel is a little high, but not horrific. Those that don’t bounce stay on the site for a surprisingly long time given how few pages there are. Average visitor time is about a minute and a half, with about 2.4 pageviews. A large portion of the visitors are reading every single page of content on the site, which is a good indication that the content keeps people reading. Of course, adding more pages of good content should add to the number of pageviews I get from each of the visitors, without the need for much off-page SEO.
Average Click-Through Rate
My horrible CTR prompted me to look more at my ad placements. I downloaded a great, free paper called The Ultimate Heatmap (not an affiliate link–I just wanted to share a great resource), which I used to redo the site’s layout.
The changes I made in the site layout were actually kind of small, but they made a big difference in the CTR. We’re talking about doubling, here, just from aligning elements more tightly than they had been. The CTR is still horrible, but it’s worlds better than it was before. The results were dramatic enough to prompt me to immediately redo my newer niche site as well.
The amount that advertisers bid for the keywords I have already targeted is out of my hands. If I want higher bids, I have to target new, higher-paying keywords.
That’s not to say, however, that I can’t increase (or decrease) the amount that I actually get for each click. Google has something known as Smart Pricing, which just means that websites that produce high CTRs for their ads get paid better for those ad spots. Of course, I have no sure way of knowing if I’m getting the the “Smart” price for my ads or the premium price. I do, however, need to make sure that my CTR is as high as possible and that my content is high-quality to avoid getting penalized.
#5: The Friendly Panda
The internet marketing world is abuzz once again with the latest update to Google’s ranking algorithm. Google has stated that this is an update to the dreaded Panda algo change, and it has hit a lot of IM’ers pretty hard. Several of the good folks over at The Keyword Academy have stated that their incomes have been hit very hard for some of their established sites, particularly those that were created with the “old” TKA methods (i.e. mostly keyword-stuffed “fluff” articles).
So, how have my rankings done with the new algorithm? Well, I’m happy to say that not only did my rankings not drop, but they actually increased noticeably. My kids’ pet site had a few low-traffic phrases move from the top of Page 2 to the bottom of Page 1, but my asbestos site moved up in the SERPs for every one of its articles!
- My top-ranking article moved up from #5 to #3.
- My second-best article moved from around #9 up to #5.
- My third-best article moved up from around #15 to #12.
Last, but definitely not least, my worst-ranking article went from it’s long-standing stagnation at #19 all the way up to #10! While it is still well below the slot where I’d like to see it, jumping almost a full page’s worth of rankings overnight is an awesome feeling.
So, why did my sites benefit from the latest Panda update, while so many IM’ers have been Google-slapped once again? Well, Google isn’t about to tell me the reason they like my sites so much, but I can certainly make some educated guesses.
First of all, I have done very little backlinking, but I have done my backlinking the right way. Many internet marketers adopt very aggressive link-building strategies and create dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of backlinks to their pages. To get that kind of volume, they have to rely on automated content farm submissions, comment spam, and the like. Most of the resulting links wind up on low-authority websites that have absolutely nothing to do with the link-builder’s own content. When I build a backlink, I only do so by writing a completely original, 300+ word article that is directly related to the page to which it links. These articles are posted on high-PR, high-authority article directories like InfoBarrel, rather than on worthless content farms.
My (admittedly accidental) success at reaching #1 on Google with my pet site taught me that even three or four really high-quality backlinks can be drastically more effective than dozens upon dozens of links done the spammy way that many SEO folks recommend. I tried the spam approach with my first niche site, and it failed miserably. I accomplished more with just two backlinking articles on InfoBarrel for my second niche site than I did with two months of building 10 worthless links a day for my first niche site.
Secondly (and far more importantly), my content is written for both the readers AND the search engines. When I write an article, my first step is to look for the keyword phrases that Google wants to find. I then use those phrases to brainstorm and outline an article that makes sense. While I’m definitely writing about keywords that will make Google happy, what goes in between those phrases is written for the real, live people who are going to end up reading it.
When you write an article that people will actually get some value from, you create something that Google has put a lot of effort into finding: semantic relevance. The internet has been inundated with spammy websites for years now, where unscrupulous internet marketers have simply strung keywords together with low-value “fluff” wording (or worse, with nonsensical gibberish). For example, let’s pretend you were writing about combination wrenches in your article.
How NOT to Do It:
Combination wrenches are great. Combination wrenches can add a lot of value to your life. You’ll be happy to have a combination wrench when you really need one. combination wrenches are a great investment, so you should make sure to get yourself a few combination wrenches today!
How to Do It Right:
Combination wrenches are on of the most important and versatile tools in your toolbox, and they can have some advantages over other kinds of tools in several situations. Combination wrenches have a low profile on their open end, which makes the usable in tight places where a ratchet and socket simply won’t fit. Also, the box-end of a combination wrench is much less likely to slip or strip nuts and bolt heads than a plain open-end wrench is when a lot of torque is required to tighten or loosen the bolt.
The first example may seem ridiculous, but I regularly see much worse. The writing makes sense, but it’s also completely meaningless to anyone who wants to read about combination wrenches. The second piece, however, actually tries to give the reader some valuable information.
When Google parses the first piece, it will notice that the words stuck between the occurrences of combination wrenches have very little real meaning. The words being used are very general, non-specific, and completely unrelated to combination wrenches. When Google finds the second piece, though, it will pick up on words like tool, toolbox, ratchet, socket, nuts, bolt heads, etc., all of which are strongly related to the topic of combination wrenches. This process is called latent semantic indexing, and it appears to be getting more and more important with each update that Google produces for their algorithm. What is great about this for readers and scrupulous internet marketers alike is that it places very high value on pages that go into detail about a topic, rather than just writing keyword-stuffed garbage articles.
The moral of the story is clear: write good, quality content for the readers, and Google will reward you. Massive backlinking campaigns are time-consuming, difficult, and expensive, and they’re futile if your content is weak. Good content, on the other hand, can multiply the effectiveness of any backlinking you do many times over.